Local Health Unit warns of tainted drug supply

CORNWALL – The region’s health unit is warning residents of an increase in drug-related poisonings in Cornwall and the surrounding areas.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit issued the warning last week on the advise of multiple community partners.

“They responded to an increase in drug poisonings (i.e., overdoses) over a short period of approximately 24 hours, from April 18-19,” the health unit said. “We don’t currently have specific numbers to report as the information we received last week was preliminary in nature. However, we felt that it was important to advise the public without delay, rather than wait for data files that would provide us with more accurate counts.”

The issue of tainted drug supply, namely Fentanyl laced with another drug, has been ongoing since last fall and moving east.

This winter, the City of Belleville declared an addiction emergency after seeing 23 suspected overdoses in a two day period. Health units east of Belleville have also been sounding the alarm.

Both the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Health Unit and the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark Health Unit have previously issued warnings.

Numbers provided by the EOHU show the number of suspected drug related deaths in its region are near the same levels as last year. In 2023 there were 44 suspected drug related deaths. In the first three months of 2024 there have been 10.

The number of emergency department visits for opioid poisonings in the EOHU are also at the relatively the same level.

In 2023, preliminary numbers from the health unit say that there were 121 ER visits due to opioid overdoses, a nine per cent decrease from 2022. Between January and March 2024, there have been 27 ER visits due to opioid overdose.

EOHU officials warned that the 2023 and 2024 numbers are preliminary and subject to change as more data is available. Most EOHU data is based on the postal code of individuals reported – showing residency of the people. That can take weeks or months to filter through data collection. The health unit uses data from the National Ambulatory Care Reporting System from the Canadian Institute for Health.

The health unit said the exact composition of the tainted drugs is not known. In Belleville, its health unit identified the tainted supply as Fentanyl mixed with Xylazine – a non-opiod sedative used as an anesthetic, muscle relaxant, or as an analgesic for animals. It is not approved for use in humans by Health Canada.

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